“Protesters threaten to torch Gautrain”. This was the headline in many newspapers yesterday, with irate Metrorail commuters threatening to burn the Gautrain if authorities do nothing to improve the quality of the services provided by Metrorail. To put it into perspective, Metrorail commuters want to burn the Gautrain, something that not only has little to do with Metrorail but also will not help solve the problem they have with Metrorail.
This culture of destruction has become synonymous with protests in South Africa, whether it’s protests by trade unions or just civilian groups. The actions and utterances of the Metrorail commuters are no different. Their leader (leader being used very loosely here), Albert Mokoena went on to say: “We have resolved amongst ourselves that it is really not good for us to burn our own (Metrorail) trains. We are going to burn the Gautrain”. Well done, that should solve the problem. Torching the Gautrain should definitely alleviate the Metrorail situation and all will be well, shouldn’t it? Or you could alternatively do the mature thing and try your hand at peaceful protesting; and get into structured talks with the relevant authorities instead of destroying property. This “If I can’t have anything, let no one else have anything” mentality is regressive. The sense of entitlement to the destruction of property that protesters feel in this and many other cases is disturbing, to say the least.
These threats are reminiscent of the actions of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), who went a never-ending strike a few years back; destroying property and being a general nuisance to society in the process. I am not opposed to protesting and industrial action, but the selfishness often displayed during the action is childish. Fight for your cause but remember that there are many other parties affected by your actions. Take, for example SADTU’s recent threat to “strike for as long as possible” because they want the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga removed from her position. Once again, here is a noble cause with poor (intended) execution. As much as many would love to see the removal of Motshekga from office, perhaps many more are even more concerned about who will teach learners in the classroom while teachers are busy settling union matters in the streets. It is all good and well to fight for that objective, but how long is “as long as it takes”? It is very irresponsible and unfair to plan to make learners suffer indefinitely because SADTU has some political or union agenda to push.
Many a time protesters are so concerned with achieving their goal that they completely dismiss the effects that their actions have on society in general. Protesters, especially during union strikes, think that a protest entitles them to harming whatever they come across; and that a protest grants them permission to make nuisances of themselves to society. It makes you wonder if we are a selfish nation that doesn’t understand that protest action is not just about achieving your own objectives, but also making sure that your actions do not make it very difficult to sympathise with your plight.
If you have a problem, it is fine to protest; it is your right after all. However, what is not your right is childish and irresponsible behaviour while doing this. I would love to hear Mr Mokoena clarify what will happen after they burn “those nice trains which speak English inside them” as he so angrily puts it. Will we be better off as a people after that? Will the destruction of infrastructure be something that we should applaud and be proud of or is it a senseless act, supposedly justified by the need for improving other infrastructure? Also, when SADTU is done striking for “as long as possible”, do they realise what a disservice they will have done to learners across the country?
These are questions that we need to ask ourselves, and perhaps we need to review the way we voice our grievances. It’s time for protesters to act like adults. Grow up.
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